Breastfeeding 101

Gainesville-based pregnancy physicians and midwives help new mothers understand the breast feeding basics

Before you give birth, one of the decisions you'll need to make is how to feed your newborn. Each approach (breastfeeding and formula) has its own pros and cons. Breastfeeding is defined as the act of feeding an infant or a young child from a mother's breast rather than using formula.

Julie Rischar, one of All About Women's certified nurse midwives and an advanced registered nurse practitioner, says, "Breast milk is going to provide support and perfect nutrition as baby continues to grow." She recommends new moms educate themselves beforehand. "Although breastfeeding is natural, it may not come naturally to all moms and babies."

breastfeeding symbol

Feeding Recommendations

According to Save the Children (an independent charity for children in need around the world), "experts recommend that children be breastfed within one hour of birth, exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, and then breastfed until age 2 with age-appropriate, nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods".

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines 'exclusively breastfed' as giving no other food or drink – not even water – except breast milk. In addition, the WHO recommends that breastfeeding be done on demand as the child feels hungry.

Most physicians and midwives strongly recommend breastfeeding for a variety of reasons. Some of the benefits for both mom and child include:

Benefits Associated with Breastfeeding (Mom)

  • Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control
  • It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer
  • Helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster
  • Lowers rates of obesity

Benefits Associated with Breastfeeding (Child)

  • It provides all the nutrients needed for healthy development
  • It is safe
  • Breast milk contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses

Risks Associated with NOT Breastfeeding

As with anything else we can do to our bodies, there are risks associated with not breastfeeding. Most experts, including the WHO and Save the Children, agree that babies who are fed formula and stop breastfeeding early have higher risk of:

  • Illness
  • Obesity
  • Allergies
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

5 Things Many Women Do Not Know About Breastfeeding

Although breastfeeding is quite common, there are several things about the practice that many new mothers don't know about. Between the joy of parenthood and the hectic pace of settling in, it can be easy to forget about things your body is going through. Below are 5 of the most common things – some good, some bad– new mothers don't think about when breastfeeding.

  • Hormones can be intense

    A nursing mother gets flooded with the hormone oxytocin (which is also the chemical released when a person falls in love). Oxytocin helps breast milk move to the front of the breasts. Hormones also combine to make a nursing mother drowsy while feeding – comparable to the sleepiness felt after eating a big meal. In addition, mothers can also experience negative hormonal effects including:

    • Uncomfortable feelings during letdown
    • Queasiness
    • Odd sense of melancholy
    • Weakness
    • Sweating
  • Breastfeeding may help some women lose their pregnancy weight

    Since breast milk is a high-fat, high-caloric food, the act of breastfeeding can help shed pounds. However, this isn't true for all new mothers. Some find that their metabolism slows to a crawl during breastfeeding. An informal poll on the popular childbirth advice website BabyCenter found that roughly 60% of women felt that breastfeeding helped them lose weight after pregnancy.

  • Breasts can leak

    During early postpartum weeks, new mothers experience breast leaking. This occurs for different reasons, including:

    • When it is time to feed baby
    • When mom hears their baby cry
    • When mom hears any baby cry
    • Even photos, videos and/or thoughts of baby can make breasts leak
  • Breasts can become lopsided

    Many women find that one of their breasts will produce more than the other, thus resulting in their breasts being lopsided. One cause is the difference in milk ducts in each of the breasts. New moms can also cause this condition by feeding their baby from one side more than the other, which will increase production in that breast.

  • Breast milk is perfectly tailored to baby

    A mother's breast milk contains the perfect balance of electrolytes, fats and nutrients for baby at the particular stage of life, as well as many necessary nutrients for building their immune system. In addition, breast milk changes throughout the day. For example, breast milk contains more sedating properties in the evening to help your baby sleep. Moreover, breast milk changes as the baby grows to meet their changing nutritional needs.

Reasons Why Women Do Not Breastfeed

There are numerous reason a woman would choose not to breastfeed, including:

  • The mother is on medication that is not safe for babies
  • The mother has health issues such as undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy or may not have enough breast tissue
  • The mother has little experience with breastfeeding (i.e. she has never been around breastfeeding or does not have breastfeeding resources)
  • The mother may have husbands/partners that see their breasts as sex objects only, and will not allow breastfeeding
  • Some women had a bad experience and choose not to try again

While breastfeeding is typically the best option for feeding babies, there are some instances when a mother should not breastfeed. For more information, please read our article When Breast Isn't Best today.

"It's a decision for mom and baby," Julie says. "Take a breastfeeding class and find a lactation consultant in your area to learn all you can during your pregnancy."

Further information about breastfeeding, pregnancy and other women's issues can be found at our blog and knowledge center.

And if you're pregnant or a new mom, let us first say congratulations! If you need assistance with breastfeeding or any other part of the post-partum experience, we invite you to schedule an appointment with one of All About Women's exceptional midwives in either Gainesville or Lake City.